Americans have no shortage of reasons to resent the Internal Revenue Service. The agency is responsible for confiscating an annual percentage of each citizen's earned wealth on behalf of the state (and it's never a bad time to reiterate this point about "fair shares"). It is now tasked with enforcing Obamacare's hated individual mandate tax -- although with blanket exceptions like this, it's unclear what there is to enforce at this stage. And it has been embroiled in a high-profile targeting scandal, in which agency higher-ups exploited their power to deliberately harass and abuse organizations opposed to the government's ruling party. The scandal has flared up again in recent weeks, as the House of Representatives weighs contempt charges for Lois Lerner amid additional developments coming to light regarding the IRS' internal culture, Lerner's political biases, and possible collusion from the Justice Department and Congressional Democrats. Against that sordid backdrop, we have this:
The Internal Revenue Service has paid more than $2.8 million in bonuses to employees with recent disciplinary problems, including $1 million to workers who owed back taxes, a government investigator said Tuesday. More than 2,800 workers got bonuses despite facing a disciplinary action in the previous year, including 1,150 who owed back taxes, said a report by J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. The bonuses were awarded from October 2010 through December 2012. George's report said the bonus program doesn't violate federal regulations, but it's inconsistent with the IRS mission to enforce tax laws.
So while the IRS was slow-rolling and auditing conservative groups, it was bestowing generous, taxpayer-funded bonuses upon employees who'd been flagged for disciplinary issues, including more than 1,100 who owed back taxes. How many ordinary Americans have received any form of bonus during this "recovery," which has been so tepid that Democrats are being urged not to mention it? How many taxpayers would earn "performance" bonuses after getting into trouble at work, or openly violating core tenets of their company's mission? Perhaps most galling is the fact that these unwarranted bonuses don't violate any federal regulations. An incredulous Mary Katharine Ham floats a modest proposal:
Surely in the untold reams of regulations, they could codify that they shouldn’t give piles of money to people charged with collecting your piles of money who then neglect to pay the proper piles of money to the organization for whom they’re charged with collecting piles of money! Lord knows they can’t use common sense, so it must be a law. Pretty sure they could find my lawnmower gas tank in violation of some federal regulation if they tried, but this? No prob, moving on.
Will this public embarrassment -- at a moment where the public is even more suspicious of the IRS than usual -- trigger some painfully obvious reforms within the agency? Perhaps, but never underestimate the power of bureaucratic inertia to do the wrong thing.